May 21, 2024

NASCAR takeaways: Chris Buescher turns around Richmond narrative, clinches playoff berth

RICHMOND, Va. – Chris Buescher had only three top-20 finishes, and just one in the top 10, throughout 14 career Cup starts at Richmond Raceway.

To say the track isn’t one of his favorites would be an understatement.

“A track that I would have told you to fill with dirt and build apartment complexes on just two or three years ago,” Buescher said is the way he would talk about Richmond.

But the 0.75-mile oval is moving up on Buescher’s list of tracks as he earned his third career Cup victory, leading 88 of the final 108 laps Sunday afternoon.

“I’ve definitely been changing my opinion of it,” Buescher said. “And that was a heck of a way to do it here.”

Here are my takeaways from Richmond, where Buescher clinched a spot in the playoffs (he was already in a good position to make the playoffs on points) thanks to holding off a slew of challengers over a three-lap dash to the finish following a late caution. Denny Hamlin finished second while Kyle Busch was third, Joey Logano fourth and Ryan Preece fifth.

Buescher executes; Boss doesn’t

Buescher had a six-second lead evaporate when Daniel Suarez spun late in the event. He came down pit road and his team was flawless on the pit stop, and then Buescher was flawless on the restart and final three laps.

“I had a lot of faith we were going to be in a good spot,” Buescher said. “I knew it was going to be tough. The 11 [of Hamlin] was very fast today, too.”

Chris Buescher earns his first win this season in the Cook Out 400 at Richmond Raceway

Chris Buescher earns his first win this season in the Cook Out 400 at Richmond Raceway

His boss, driver and RFK Racing co-owner Brad Keselowski, had confidence Buescher could hold off the challengers.

“We’ve worked really hard on getting this pit crew to the next level, and they’re now an elite pit crew,” Keselowski said. “Chris is a tremendous driver. And he’s starting to show everyone the lead driver that I thought he could be.”

Keselowski led 102 laps but threw away his chance to win when he had trouble getting into his pit stall on a pit stop in the final stage.

“I just got wide on entry,” Keselowski said. “Turning in, I just slightly locked up the right front. I couldn’t get it in straight.

“It’s real hard with the glare, but ultimately, it’s on me. I need to have a little cleaner entry.”

Hamlin’s bad restart

Hamlin had a shot to go back-to-back following his victory last week at Pocono Raceway as he restarted beside Buescher on the final restart. He didn’t get the restart he needed.

“I had something for him if I could half-ass drive,” Hamlin said. “I just spun the tires on the restart.

“Kyle gave me a really good push down the front straightaway to get me back going. … The worst restart ever. It was terrible.”

Denny Hamlin on the restart at the end of the race and Kyle Larson bumping him in Richmond

Denny Hamlin on the restart at the end of the race and Kyle Larson bumping him in Richmond

Preece’s solid day

Ryan Preece, whose last couple of races ended with him face-to-face arguing with drivers who had spun him out, challenged in the top five the entire day and wound up fifth.

He needs a win to make the playoffs but for a driver with an average finish of 22nd this year, he will take that top-five result and smile.

“I’m a racer so I hate losing more than I love winning,” Preece said. “To be honest with you, we needed a solid day. We needed to lay this foundation.”

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.

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